Essential oils for muscle pain are volatile oils extracted from plants. Chemically, they have constituent parts that may be anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antiviral, mucolytic, bactericidal or have other sedative or restorative properties.
All essential oils are also antiseptic to some degree. Their effect may be through their aroma, when the olfactory nerve sends a signal to the brain in response to the oil.
Other times, oils may be absorbed through the skin. When combined with massage, the actions of the oil for muscle pain combine with the comforting touch of a massage therapist can have considerable benefits for mind and body. The tradition of using essential oils and aromatherapy to aid in healing dates back at least 4000 years. (1, 2)
Essential oils may be used individually, or in a blend, to get the desired therapeutic effect. For instance, a blend designed to relieve muscle pain may combine an anti-inflammatory oil with a sedative oil and an analgesic oil to help relieve inflammation, relax the mind and reduce pain.
15 Best essential oils for muscle pain
According to Worwood (1), some essential oils that are good for relief of muscle pain include:
Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Often used for muscular aches and pains, added to massage oils for its warming effect. The scent is sharp and spicy. Stimulating to the mind. Precautions needed: Could irritate sensitive skin – use a carrier oil and small quantities of essential oil. (1,2, 3,4) Research has found that the main constituent of black pepper (β-Caryophyllene) has anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects. (5)
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
Has a pungent, spicy, heavy, peppery scent. Added to oils for its warming effects and reputed effectiveness for rheumatic pain. Precautions needed: Could irritate sensitive skin – use a carrier oil and small quantities of essential oil. (1, 2, 3,4) There has been research that suggest that α-Phellandrene, a constituent of ginger, could be the source of its anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties. (5)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
A warm, herbal aroma. It stimulates circulation and is reputed to help with mental clarity, as well as helping sore muscles. Precautions: Do not use with people who are pregnant, have epilepsy, or have high blood pressure. (1, 2, 3,4)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is considered to be one of the staples of any aromatherapy practice. In addition to aiding with sore muscles as a mild analgesic, it is calming, is useful for treating burns and other skins conditions, and is reputed to aid healing, as an anti-inflammatory. It is also considered one of the safest oils to use. There are a number of varieties of lavender, each with a slightly different scent. All have similar properties. (1,2,3,4) Research has shown that linalool, which is a constituent of lavender has anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, and antinociceptive properties (5). This means it can aid in reducing inflammation, reducing anxiety, reduce seizures, and reduce sensitivity to painful stimuli.
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
Warm, woody and slightly spicy scent reported to be stimulating and uplifting. Used in massage oil, its warming properties aid in relaxing muscles. Precautions: Not for use during pregnancy. (1,3,4)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Described as fresh, sweet, and spicy, basil oil is purported to reduce mental fatigue and sharpen the senses. Precautions: Not for use during pregnancy, can also cause skin irritation, so a carrier oil is needed. (2, 3,4) Like lavender, it contains linalool, which can help reduce inflammation, anxiety and pain. (5)
Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium)
Made from the leaves of the orange tree, the scent of petitgrain has been described as fresh, floral and sweet. This essential oil has been purported to reduce muscle stiffness, be calming, and sharpen awareness. (2,3,4) Petitgrain contains the compound α-Terpineol, which may have antinociceptive (analgesic) properties. (5)
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
Juniper oil has a pleasant woody smell and has been described as warming, stimulating and refreshing. It has been used for treating arthritis, as well as skin conditions. It is purported to clear the mind and ease sore muscles. (1,2,3,4).
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
The scent of thyme has been described as soft and herbal. Its properties have been described as antiseptic, as well as good for the skin and a general stimulant. (2,3,4). Thymol, a main constituent of thyme essential oil, has been found to have anti-inflammatory as well as analgesic properties. (5)
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
The aroma of peppermint oil is described as bright, sharp and sweet. Distilled from the leaves of the peppermint plant, peppermint essential oil is used in many commercial products, such as chewing gum, candy, and toothpaste. As a massage oil additive, peppermint oil can have analgesic properties, due to its main constituent, menthol. Precautions: may irritate sensitive skin. (2,3,4,5)
Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
The fresh citrus scent of grapefruit oil has been said to induce euphoria and relieve anxiety. It is also been said to be good for the skin. Limonene, a constituent of citrus oils, has anti-inflammatory properties. (2,3,4,5)
Orange (Citrus sinensis)
With a scent described as bright and happy, orange oil is said to help people unwind and relax. Like grapefruit, it contains limonene, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Precautions: may irritate sensitive skin, may cause sun sensitivity for up to 24 hours after use. (2,3,4,5)
Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
The scent of lime essential oil is described as sharp and fresh. Lime oil has been promoted as a restorative for the nervous system, relieving tension and calming the mind. Like grapefruit, it contains limonene, which has anti-inflammatory properties. (2,3,4,5,6)
Birch (Betula lenta)
Birch oil is distilled from leaves and bark of birch trees, and it has a strong wintergreen aroma. It is used to treat arthritis, sore or stiff muscles and joint pain. Birch oil can be toxic in high amounts, so must always be diluted. Birch oil should not be used during pregnancy. It can also cause skin irritation. (2,4)
Massage oils for muscle pain
For use in a massage, essential oils are generally combined with a carrier oil or lotion, some of which may have their own benefits to skin or muscles. Jojoba is often used because of its long shelf life and its properties, which are very similar to those of human skin oils.
Others that are common are coconut oil, which is relatively inexpensive and moisturizing; cocoa butter, which is nourishing to the skin; grapeseed oil, which has no scent and is high in Vitamin E; and olive oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties of its own. Aromatherapy texts recommend the use of natural products whenever possible (1,2).
The recommended dilution of aromatherapy oils for massage therapy in adults is generally considered to be between 15-60 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier, with most blends falling into the 20-30 drop range. For infants and children, only use 3-6 drops per ounce of carrier. (7)
Aromatherapy texts also caution that the quality of essential oil used is important, to ensure that you get pure essential oils, not chemicals, adulterated products, or perfumes. Read labels carefully and research the manufacturer to ensure that they have a good track record. Look for essential oils in natural food or health stores rather than beauty or perfume stores. If a price is lower than expected, it is likely diluted or not the correct oil. (1,2) Other things to consider before using an essential oil in a massage is whether the client has any allergies that could be affected by essential oils.
4 Essential oil blend formulas for muscle pain
1.Muscular Pain Formula
- 10 drops Lavender
- 5 drops Rosemary
- 15 drops Cypress
- 1 oz carrier oil
2. Topical Analgesic Formula
- 20 drops Clove
- 20 drops Eucalyptus
- 10 drops Thyme
- 2 ounces anhydrous lanolin
- 6 teaspoons rosewater
3. Sore, Achy Muscle Formula
- 3 drops Birch
- 6 drops Pine
- 6 drops Lemon
- 4 drops Spruce
- 6 drops Rosemary
- 1 ounce carrier oil
4. Stiff, Tired Muscle Formula
- 3 drops Birch
- 6 drops Pine
- 6 drops Eucalyptus
- 2 drops Chamomile
- 1 ounce carrier oil
Making blends from the recommended oils for muscle pain is relatively easy to do. Experiment with what is available, smell various oils to see which are appealing, mix them in a proportion of 15-30 drops per ounce of carrier, and see how it smells and how clients react.
Be sure to be aware of the precautions for essential oils, especially if you are pregnant or have seizures, as many oils may have adverse effects.
- Worwood, VA. The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy. 1991. New World Library, Novato, California.
- Edwards, VH. The Aromatherapy Companion. 1999. Storey Publishing, North Adams, Massachusetts.
- Aroma Therapeutix
- Woodland Herbs
- De Cassia da Silveira e Sa, R; Lima, TC; Da Nobrega, FR; Medeiros de Brito, AE; and De Sousa, DP. Analgesic-like activity of essential oil constituents: An update. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2017, 18, 2392.
- Amorim JL, Simas DLR, Pinheiro MMG, Moreno DSA, Alviano CS, da Silva AJR, et al. (2016) Anti-Inflammatory
- Properties and Chemical Characterization of the Essential Oils of Four Citrus Species. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153643. Doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0153643
- National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy